WORKS: An Alpine Symphony; Symphonic Fantasy from Die Frau ohne Schatten
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 2292-45997-2 DDD
Karajan once said that he conducted Strauss’s Alpine Symphony for the sake of the Epilogue. So, it seems, does Barenboim, and it’s a pity he shows little of Karajan’s magisterial control before his sun sets so broadly in the atmospheric afterglow of an otherwise ignoble mountain journey.
Earthy solidity is Barenboim’s element, but free flow eludes him (almost disastrously so, as full orchestra attempts to take up the woodland rhapsody of solo strings three or so minutes into track four – one of many scrambles that should not have escaped the producer’s notice). Once on the summit, by way of an oboe solo which smoothly disregards the stammering amazement written into the part, the Chicago mountaineers set about a hasty demolition work that has nothing to do with the dark side of Straussnatural world.
The recording does justice to the more refined textures at which Barenboim momentarily excels, though it also tells the truth about the current state of the Chicago sound – under-energised, slightly out-of-focus strings ill met by garish brass. The latest attempt to make something of Strauss’s unfortunate Frau ohne Schatten Fantasia – so unrepresentative of the opera’s stranger treasures, so easy on the ear – is no compensation for this lazy day in the mountains. Regular readers should be glad to hear that Jansons’s, on January’s free CD, holds much firmer ground. David Nice